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Oral Examination

To qualify for PhD candidacy, a pre-doctoral student must complete all required first- and second-year courses, be in good academic standing (GPA ≥3.0), pass the two comprehensive examinations at the end of the first and second years at the PhD level, and pass the doctoral qualifying oral examination. The doctoral qualifying oral examination is an oral defense of a literature review of 10-20 pages in length. This examination is not intended to be a dissertation proposal defense and the student is neither required nor expected to pursue research in this area. Rather, the intent of the examination is to gauge the students’ preparedness for pursuing doctoral research. The proposal will consist of a critical review of the literature and outline potential avenues of research. Students will work closely with a faculty member during their third year to prepare this review; this faculty member does not have to be the student’s advisor. The student must submit the proposal 14 days in advance of the examination.

The student will present the proposed research to the doctoral qualifying committee. The committee members will be free to ask questions about any substantive or methodologic issue. Examinations will be closed to the public and will last approximately two hours. Students will present their proposal in 30 to 45 minutes. For the remainder of the examination, committee members will question the student. The student must demonstrate (1) excellent communication skills, (2) proficiency with the core PhD curriculum, (3) refined critical thinking skills, and (4) the ability to synthesize existing research on a topic of the student’s choosing. The committee will deliberate its conclusions in private. There are three possible outcomes of the examination: Pass; Conditional pass (conditions to be set by the doctoral qualifying committee and approved by the DGS); Fail.

The doctoral qualifying committee will have a minimum of four voting members. Of the four voting members, three must be PhD Biostatistics faculty[1] and one must be PhD faculty (not in Biostatistics, Statistics, or Mathematics) from Vanderbilt at large. Faculty not possessing a PhD are not eligible to be voting members of the examination committee, but are welcome to participate in the examination and the committee’s closed deliberations. The committee’s composition must be approved by the DGS.

On satisfactory completion of the oral examination (i.e., pass or conditional pass with conditions met), the student will be admitted to candidacy. In the case of failure, the student will be given up to four months to retake the examination. The doctoral qualifying committee, with approval of the DGS, will determine the date of the second examination.  Failure in a second examination will result in dismissal from the doctoral program. Students who fail to pass the doctoral qualifying examination are eligible for a MS in Biostatistics if they complete all of the necessary requirements. The doctoral qualifying oral examination should be completed during the student’s third academic year, preferably before June of the third year. The format of this examination is governed by the Department’s Examination Committee.

[1] ‘PhD Biostatistics faculty’ includes departmental faculty with a PhD, ScD, or DrPH in Biostatistics or Statistics


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